by John Ellis
As a general rule, a company’s activist history is not a variable I consider as a consumer. Is the product something I want or need at a price-point that I’m okay with? Those are the two most importance pieces of information I process while shopping. To be sure, other variables come into play with varying degrees of importance. For example, if I’m hungry, the speed and quality of the service and the cleanliness of the restaurant are taken into consideration. Is the store overly busy? In fact, I’m usually willing to pay a few extra bucks if I don’t have to wait in a long check-out line or drive a long distance. That’s a difference between me and my wife. She’ll drive farther and wait longer to snag a “good deal.” For me, though, the extra time involved is not a “cost” I’m willing to bear, unless it’s a really good deal. For many, though, the types of organizations and causes to which a business donates or the kind of social statements the business makes is at the top of the list of important variables when considering where and with whom to do business. Caught in a tug-of-war between activist consumers, Chick-fil-A finds itself in the middle of a social media firestorm after announcing that they would no longer be donating money to non-profits with anti-LGBTQ policies.
In a statement, the fast food company announced that they will no longer be donating to The Salvation Army, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home, explaining that they have fulfilled multi-year commitments they had made with each organization. An article posted by Reuters articulates the general public feeling that this is really over the backlash the company has received related to LGBTQ issues:
U.S. fast-food chain Chick-fil-A said on Monday it had stopped funding two Christian organization, including The Salvation Army, that have come under fire from LGBT+ campaigners.
The fast-food chain’s charitable arm, Chick-fil-A Foundation, donated millions of dollars over a period of years to The Salvation Army and to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which opposes same-sex marriage.
Chick-fil-A said on Monday it no longer funded these organizations and would instead focus its giving on “education, homelessness and hunger”.
Over the years, Chick-fil-A has built a massive brand that swamps the competition, largely through the loyalty of customers happy to fork over dollars to a company that shares their values. Even in the face of massive online campaigns aimed at “canceling” the chain, harassment from progressive local governments, and organized boycotts, Chick-fil-A has continued to gobble up a larger and larger share of the market. However, for many Believers and social conservatives, Chick-fil-A’s shift in philanthropic philosophy is seen as a betrayal.
A quick perusal of Chick-fil-A’s mentions on Twitter reveals a growing anger among its customer base over the company’s statement and new position. On the other side of the issue, the LGBTQ community has processed the news with a healthy dose of skepticism. At first blush, Chick-fil-A appears to have made a branding misstep, something that the media savvy company is not accustomed to making. It will be interesting to see how they respond moving forward; for now, though, the question remains – what are Christians to make of Chick-fil-A’s new policy?
One Christian thought-leader, Russell Moore, upon hearing the growing rumblings that Christians should boycott Chick-fil-A reminded his readers:
While boycotts are not always wrong, they are almost always counter-productive. The reason for this is not because of their effectiveness, or lack thereof, but because of what they tend to do to the boycotters. The assumptions behind a boycott is that our power is economic and majoritarian. If you lose us, you lose money and status. But, for those of us who are the people of Christ, that’s not our power. Our argument about marriage is not that we are “many,” and able thus to impose our views, but the exact reverse. Our argument is that marriage and sexuality aren’t shaped by ongoing majority votes, but are rooted in something mysterious to the world: the union of the church to a crucified Christ (Eph. 5:32). The cross is a contradiction to the powers of this world and needs no propping up by them, whether governmental or corporate or cultural.
As alluded to in my opening paragraph, I agree with Dr. Moore; Christians shouldn’t be quick to leverage boycotts in attempts to shoehorn our beliefs and values into society. However, I would like to add a caveat to that. While I don’t doubt that, in the main, Chick-fil-A is simply trying to bolster their already healthy bottom line, this news does not bode well for conservative Christians in this country.
A person would have to be practically a hermit not to realize that the times they are a-changin’, to borrow from the great Bob Dylan. One of the more dramatic changes over the last few years has been in the realm of social values. Believing the Bible’s sexual ethics (marriage – sex – is between one man and one woman, and only two genders that are immutable from birth) is roundly denounced as hateful bigotry. More and more people are applying mounting pressure to companies and public figures (and private individuals) to adhere to the new sexual ethics. Failure to do so brings with it contemporary society’s version of the dreaded letter “A” branded across the individual or entity. In fact, the pressure is such as to automatically render any dialogue untenable. Disagreement is a level of heresy that brings quick condemnation and severe retribution. Being associated with social conservatism on any level is the new anathema. Chick-fil-A, though, and for good reason owing to its size and influence, was viewed by social conservatives as the last bastion – the Tom Bombadil of conservative and Biblical values, if you will. Chick-fil-A was always going to be the last major company to stand firm, it was believed, and now it has appeared to have fallen.
Make no mistake, no matter how much the company and its defenders caveat this decision, the fact remains that Chick-fil-A caved to pressure from the LGBTQ community on some level. I’m not questioning their right to do so and I am definitely not advocating for a boycott. But, it’s inescapable that the once conservatively stalwart company has now ceded much ground to the agenda of the sexual revolution. Even if their spin of this is 100% legit, their new position is a win for those who desire to see any influence by God’s sexual ethics removed from society. Whether they intended to or not, Chick-fil-A’s decision has given credence to the LGBTQ community’s contention that it is unacceptable to be opposed to same-sex marriage. What probably seemed like a wise business decision in the safety of the corporate board room has made it nearly financially unfeasible for other large companies to take principled stands along social conservative lines.
Since the Obergefell Decision in 2015, many social conservatives have rung the alarm bell while others have urged caution, claiming that a martyr complex is a bad look. While a martyr complex may be a bad look, sticking one’s head in the sand and refusing to see the progressive writing on the wall is foolish. Unless the Holy Spirit intervenes, the climate in this country is only going to become even more inhospitable towards conservative Christians. Chick-fil-A’s caving to the LGBTQ community is further evidence that Christians are closer to actual persecution than some are willing to admit.
So, what are Christians to do? Well, be thankful that our hope is in Christ and not in any nation, form of government, or business, no matter how delicious their chicken is and clean their bathrooms are. To that end, we need to avail ourselves of the ordinary means of grace – Bible reading, prayer, the sacraments rightly administered, the preaching of the Word, and the fellowship of the saints. We also need to redouble our efforts to see lost souls saved from God’s wrath. Along with that, like the Apostle John, we should be praying for the swift return of King Jesus. While doing all that, we can also continue to enjoy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries from Chick-fil-A with a clean conscience before God.